By Harv Aronson
These days many stadiums are “cookie cutter” venues. That meaning, many are designed the say way. When I was growing up this trend was also common.
I watched my baseball and football games at Three Rivers Stadium. But over in Philadelphia, their Veterans Stadium looked much like the one in the ‘Burgh. There were several stadiums I had seen and been in, but many are now gone. Replaced with new innovative facilities that sometimes just don’t give the feel that you are at the “old ballyard.”
So, our tour begins of stadiums that once were. Gone but not forgotten by any means. When they imploded Three Rivers Stadium and replaced it with not just Heinz Field but PNC Park as well, fans went out to watch it in the February cold and cheered as it tumbled to the ground. I watched the video of that and their reaction and got a sick feeling in my stomach as most were probably younger men and women who were not around for the glory days of that old round facility and just didn’t understand the depth and history that Three Rivers had created and that crashed to the ground the cold wintry day.
First up on our list of stadiums of yesteryear is the original home of the former Montreal Expos who are now the Washington Nationals. The first time I laid eyes upon Jarry Park, home to the Expos in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, I thought it was some sort of joke. The stadium was more like a high school baseball field. Surrounded with wire fences, short distances to those fences in the outfield, and not a very large capacity for seating. I remember clearly watching players crashing into those low height fences chasing down fly balls to the outfield.
The venue was built in 1960 but not until the Expos became an expansion team in 1969 did they play baseball there and did so until the stadium was closed in 1976. For the record, Jarry Park’s distances were 340 feet to left field; 368 to left-center; 420 to center field; 368 to right-center, and 340 to right field. From home plate to the backstop it was just 60 feet. The original seating capacity was only 3,000 but in 1969 when the Expos moved in, it was increased to 28,456.
In their inaugural season, the Expos finished in last place in the National League East with a record of 52-110 and were 48 games behind the 1969 “Miracle Mets.” On opening day April 14, 1969, the Expos hosted the St. Louis Cardinals and won 8-7 with a standing room only crowd of 29,184. Apparently, fans lost interest because the very next day only 14,718 showed up. For the season, Montreal averaged 14,970 fans per game or 1,212,608 seventh best in the National League.
Once Jarry Park closed, the Expos moved into Olympic Stadium. In the final game played in Jarry Park, the day was Sunday, September 26, 1976 and the home team Expos lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1. Only 14,166 fans were at the game and by the time Montreal had played their final game that season, they had won just 55 games dropping 107.
After the Expos left the building, Jarry Park became a venue for local civic events, a home for the Canadian Professional Soccer League team based in Montreal, and then in 1980 it became a tennis center. Where the backstop used to be for baseball became a corner of the tennis court. The stadium has undergone several nam changes from Jarry Park to Du Maurer Staium to Stade Uniprix. Today the grounds holds baseball stadiums, soccer fields, a cricket court, basketball courts, beach volleyball courts, pitches and zones, swimming pools, playgrounds, a dog run, and several gazebos. Once winter comes a pond nearby becomes a skating rink.